Saturday, July 6, 2013

Music: Alban Berg's Lulu and Adorno's commentary

Versions of Alban Berg's great Lulu, with a few preliminary comments by Berg's student, Theodor Adorno.

Performances (videos below):
Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2008.
Paris Opera, 24 February, 1974.
Zurich Opera,
Royal Opera, 2009.

Theodor Adorno on Berg's Lulu:
The opera Lulu is one of those works that reveals the extent of its quality the longer and more deeply one immerses oneself in it.  Berg's original concept of development itself underwent development.  No longer is the process one of moving from one sonority to another, from one phrase to the next, as was appropriate for the held breath, the intensified moment of Expressionism, but rather one of unfolding over long stretches.... During a lesson Berg once praised a chamber work because it development section took on real momentum.  This praise, whether deserved or not, can be interpreted as the expression of a compositional interest that dominated all others in the mature Berg and in Lulu came into its own. - Adorno. Alban Berg.  (1968:125)
In Lulu the self - from whose point of view events are seen, from whose perspective the music is heard - steps visibly onto the stage; Berg intimates as much with one of those quotations he loved to smuggle in, the way a medieval master included his self-portrait as a minor figure in a religious painting.  Truly a corporeal-incorporeal suitor: united in Alwa's rondo themes is the exuberance of Schumannesque youth and Baudelairian fascination with fatal beauty.  What became known as the first movement of the Lulu Suite, the enraptured praise of the loved one, glows in an ecstasy words can not equal; as if the music wanted to become one of those fairy-tale gowns Wedekind envisaged for Lulu.  This music, as a radiant, multi-hued jewel for the beloved body, seeks to restore human dignity to a banished, heretical yearning.  Every bar of music intends salvation for the banished, for the symbol of sexual being, for a soul that in the hereafter rubs the sleep from its eyes, to quote from the most irresistible bars of the opera.  In using and setting these words Berg paid his respects to the sixty-year-old [Karl] Krause, author of Sittlichkeit und Kriminalitat.  Berg's Lulu music thanks him in the name of that utopia which at heart motivates Kraus's critique of the bourgeois taboos that degrade love.  Berg's music strikes a nerve where civilized man does not joke, and precisely this point becomes for him a refuge of the humane.  - Adorno.  Alban Berg (1968:7).
"The twelve-tone chord at the moment of Lulu's death in Berg's opera produces an effect very much like that of a motion picture." - Adorno and Eisler. Composing for the Films (1947:.24).
 "Lyric Opera's film interlude. Composed in 1927, Alban Berg’s Lulu was the first opera to include specific stage directions for a FILM to be projected as a part of the staging. In this 2008 Lyric Opera of Chicago production digital video was used to carefully emulate period film and advance the narrative."

Lulu: Marlis Petersen
Stage Director: Paul Curran

Discussion/Interview (c.60min) - Discovery Series: Lulu with Marlis Petersen and Sir Andrew Davis November 10, 2008 

“Lulu” at the Lyric. Review.

Berg’s Lulu at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Review.
Berg died of a blood infection before he could complete Lulu.  The first two acts were complete, but the third act was not, though in the opinion of many, including Adorno, the work was all but complete.  Though the narrative's concerning the motivations vary, Berg's widow asked both Schoenberg and Webern to complete the work and both refused.  Adorno believed that Schoenberg's refusal had more to do with jealousy, as Berg's masterpiece surpassed Schoenberg's own achievements.  Webern, Adorno thought, was moving in his own direction and it differed enough from Berg's that Webern did not want to risk compromising either vision.   --- Berg died at the time of Webern's working on three of his important works: Op. 24, Concerto for Nine Instruments (1934), Op. 27, Variations for piano (1936) and the Op. 28, String Quartet (1937–38). ---  The work of both composers, along with Schoenberg's, were complemented by the fascist ban on degenerate music and art.  Without the participation of Schoenberg in particular, Helene Berg refused to allow the work to be completed and thus only a two act version with excerpts from Act III (known as the Lulu Suite) was performed. 

Adorno pleaded with Helene Berg to allow the work to be completed "while there were still students" like himself and others close to Berg who would have first hand knowledge of Berg's methods and vision for the work.  In it's two act form, Adorno wrote, the work would be forever obscure and rarely if ever performed.  Adorno's efforts were unsuccessful and he died in 1969 having, like Berg, never heard the completed work.

After the war, Adorno wrote to Helene Berg:
Today I am now also writing to you for a particular reason, one that seems to me the most important for both of us: the orchestration of the missing parts of Lulu.  I know that Schoenberg refused to do it.  Webern was also against it when I last saw him in England (probably 1936) and I have been told that you are not generally in favor of the plan.
If I now strive to change your mind with all due seriousness and responsibility, you must believe that I am guided by nothing other than concern for the work an for Alban's intentions.  I myself, to clarify the matter in advance, neither wish nor am I able to take on the task.
As far as Schoenberg's rejection is concerned, first of all, I am convinced that his motives - despite the one serious argument he advances - are not of the purest sort.  We often spoke of his jealousy, you, Alban and I; I had occasion to observe it in its basest manifestations, and I have no reservations about claiming that the thought of cutting off Alban's deciding work from posterity through his refusal is a tempting one to him.  And in conversation with Webern, I also encountered a form of coldness that was able only with some effort to mask itself as respect before the fate one must accept.  He said, with his air of native cunning, that a work such as Schubert's B minor Symphony is also incomplete, yet lives.  But this is sophistic analogy.  There is a fundamental difference between a symphonic work and an opera.  Anyone with even the slightest understanding of theatre, which is by its very nature dependent on an audience, knows that an unfinished opera, outside of memorial or festival performances, could not live.
God knows that I honour the idea of the fragment [e.g., Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment was subtitled Philosophical Fragments], but in an art form whose aesthetic substance cannot be  separated from a certain drastic materiality, a fragmentary reproduction would be an impossibility, even if it survived the worldly demands of the theatrical world.  And I would stake my life on the fact that Alban would have approved of my intention....
And if Webern claimed in the end that the composition was not really complete, but in some sections only sketched in the principle parts, then I refuse to believe this before I have seen, nay: studied it with my own eyes.  Berg told me unequivocally of the compositions completion; in a letter to me.... One should not believe anything to the contrary.
Now, I am all too aware of the incredible difficulty, arduousness and responsibility of such a task.  No one person can carry it out.  The orchestration of Lulu is only possible collectively....
My Paris friend Rene Leibowitz... a musician of the highest order... versed in the style... bound to the cause by the most passionate love.  He has gathered around him a group of musicians fanatically devoted to Alban.
It could finally be argued that there is plenty of time yet for such a matter, and that one could see to it one day, much, much later, when Alban has 'become entirely historical' (itself a ghastly notion).  I also consider this argument false.  There is never enough time for the things that matter.  The world we live in has taken on the tempo of catastrophe; it would be naive to simply trust its course - it can all fall to ruin.  And, to speak of more concrete matters:  the tradition of our music lies in the hands of very few people, among whom Leibowitz is the most important.  If it is interrupted, the instrumentation of Lulu will no longer be possible, as no one will understand the sense and language of such an instrumentation any more.  But if those few people still directly familiar with it succeed in completing the instrumentation, then this can itself save the tradition.  The extreme importance of which calls for no further words.
Theodor Adorno to Helene Berg
November 23, 1949 238-241
Lonitz, Henri, ed. (Wieland Hoban, trans.). 2005.  Theodor Adorno and Alban Berg.: Correspondence 1925-1935. Cambridge: Polity Press.
In 1976 Helene Berg died and almost immediately the work on a new completed version of the opera was begun by Friedrich Cerha -- Rene Leibowitz having died in 1972, a fact that sadly testifies to Adorno's obvious urgency in his letter.  Cerha was known for his interpretations of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg. Conducted by Pierre Boulez, one the students of Rene Leibowitz referred to by Adorno, the Berg/Cerha Three Act version premiered on February 24, 1979  with Teresa Stratas as Lulu and the stage production by Patrice Chéreau.

Theatre National de l'Opera de Paris
February 24, 1979
Pierre Boulez: Musical Director

Lulu: Teresa Strata
Stage Direction: Patrice Chereau


Chorus and Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House
Direttore: Franz Welser-Möst

Lulu: Laura Aikin
Countess Geschwitz: Cornelia Kallisch
Medical Specialist: Peter Keller
Painter: Steve Davislim
Dr. Schön: Alfred Muff
Alwa: Peter Straka
Schigolch: Guido Götzen
Schoolboy: Andrea Bönig
Dresser: Katharina Peetz
Animal Trainer/Acrobat: Rolf Haunstein
Prince/Manservant: Martin Zysset
Theatre Director: Werner Gröschel
Child: Lynn Lange